Studying the Bible drops throughout social distancing …… | Information reporting

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The COVID-19 pandemic is changing American engagement in the Bible. Many who are socially distant from their spiritual communities turn less to Scripture and those who have lost their loved ones to the virus read it more.

Between early 2019 and 2020, the percentage of adults in the United States who reported using the Bible daily fell from 14 to 9 percent. This emerges from the report on the state of the Bible 2020 published today by the Barna Group and the American Bible Society (ABS).

A decrease of 5 percentage points in a single year was unprecedented in the 10-year history of the annual survey. Between 2011 and 2019, daily Bible readers had essentially stabilized in an average of 13.7 percent of the population.

However, the decline continued in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, and by June the percentage of daily Bible users had dropped to 8.5 percent.

In the midst of the pandemic, there was a major decline among Americans who say that their choices and relationships are shaped by the Bible. A group of ABS calls this “Bible committed”. In January, 27.8 percent of American adults were concerned with the Bible. After months of quarantine and church closings, the figure was 22.6 percent in June.

"This study supports the idea that the Church plays an important role in people's wellbeing and commitment to the Scriptures," said John Farquhar Plake, ABS director of the ministry's intelligence agency. “To increase scriptural engagement, we need to improve relational links among the Church. The pandemic – and now this survey – has shown that scripture engagement increases as church relational engagement increases, but scripture engagement decreases as it decreases. "

Picture: State of the Bible 2020 / ABS and Barna Group

Overall, according to a survey in January, about a fifth (22%) of adults in the United States interacted with the Bible several times a week without taking into account the use of scripture in the church. More than a third (35%) of Americans say they have never read the Bible – unchanged from last year, but from 25 percent at the beginning of the 2011 annual report. Sixty percent read the Bible four times a year or less.

In January women were slightly more preoccupied with the Bible than men (19.1% vs. 18.8%) and 2% more often than men “biblically centered” (a Barna and ABS term for people with the greatest influence of scripture in their daily lives).

However, that changed when the pandemic broke out. Women have lost more ground than men in engaging in the Bible, and for the first time in the history of the survey, gender engagement has been balanced. Women's engagement in the Bible decreased 7 percentage points between January and June, compared to 6 percentage points for men. The number of women who were classified as "biblically centered" in January decreased by 3.9 points to 1 point in June compared to men.

Picture: State of the Bible 2020 / ABS and Barna Group

The decline could be related to life adjustments that women had to make when they were working from home and caring for children who had previously attended school or daycare, the report speculated. According to the report, a lack of personal connection to churches and small groups could also have played a role.

"You can't download a hug," said Donald Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Lack of encouragement through "physical presence" with other believers can "reduce our commitment to the spiritual disciplines because when we are together we are encouraged to remain faithful to God's things."

One way to go back to scripture is to meditate on it, said Whitney, author of the Spiritual Disciplines for Christian Life. Christians should "read big, meditate small," he said, read a larger passage, and then spent a few minutes thinking about a verse or phrase. Praying the passage and creating an illustration are two types of mediation suggested by Whitney.

Measuring the impact of the pandemic on American spirituality was a major reason ABS supplemented its January survey of 2,010 people conducted alongside Barna with a June survey of 3,020 Americans. The pandemic does not appear to have changed the overall percentage of Bible readers in the follow-up study, but Americans who lost loved ones through COVID-19 were more likely to increase their Bible use.

About half (49%) of Americans with a family member in their household who died of coronavirus said they use the Bible more often – 2.3 times more than the average. Thirty-six percent of those with a neighbor who died from the virus increased their Bible use (1.7 times more than average) and 33 percent of those with a close personal friend who died increased their use (1.6- times more than the average).

When the pandemic broke out in March, there were first signs that it could have an overall positive impact on American spirituality. Three of the largest online ministries of evangelism – Global Media Outreach, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Cru – reported an increase in people looking for online information about knowing Jesus. The surge in curiosity was confirmed by ABS, which saw more Americans research the Bible for the first time in June than in January.

But apparently the increase in curiosity didn't lead to engagement. In June, 13.1 million Americans were less concerned with the Bible than in January. Within this overall decline, the Bible-centered segment was hit hardest, dropping 9.7 million.

According to ABS, the closure of the church during the pandemic has likely affected the decline in Bible engagement.

"Faith communities have demonstrated incredible resilience, innovation and empathy through the pandemic," said ABS President and CEO Robert Briggs. "However, this survey shows that Christian organizations still have a great opportunity to influence scriptural engagement."

During the blockade required by the pandemic, 48 percent of practicing Christians virtually met with their churches through a streaming service that, according to ABS, allowed them to see but not be seen or heard, and 14 percent did not attend Christian services part.

Chris Hall, president of the Ministry of Spiritual Education Renovaré, said that a change in pace of life is likely to affect Bible engagement. Prolonged stress could also have affected Christians' ability to digest and live Scripture, he said.

To counteract a pandemic-induced morass in Bible engagement, Hall said, "Learn to read the Bible in a new way." This may include using a Bible app that plays music while a person is reading, or one Bible app that reads a selected passage over and over again.

"Think about the opportunities the pandemic offers," he said, "and not just what is negative."

The annual report also showed that millennials read the Bible more often than any other generation. 26 percent read them several times a week. This is in line with previous findings that practicing Christian millennials know the Bible as well or better than their parents and grandparents. Adults aged 74 and over rarely read their Bibles several times a week, only 10 percent do so.

While most Bible readers (65%) prefer a printed version, millennials read the Bible digitally (52%) about as often as they print (48%). Americans who live in a household that has a Bible (77% of the population) use a Bible app as often as those without a Bible in the house (56% versus 55%).

African Americans have the highest level of scriptural engagement among race groups in America, another finding that is consistent with longstanding trends. 27 percent of African Americans are preoccupied with the Bible, compared with 24 percent of Hispanics, 18 percent of Asians, and 17 percent of Anglos.

ABS plans to publish an additional analysis of American involvement in the Bible each month between August and December.

David Roach is a writer in Nashville.

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